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by Balasubram Radhakrishnan, Sarma B Gorti, Younggil Song, Gary Cola
Publication Type
ORNL Report
Publication Date

During the Flash process, the cross section of a plain-carbon or a low-alloy steel is austenitized through rapid heating and transformed on rapid cooling to a predominantly martensite + bainite structure with small amounts of retained austenite. Unlike conventional heat treating, homogeneity is intentionally avoided during Flash processing of steels. The Flash process assembly consists of a pair of rolls that transfer the steel sheets through the heating and cooling stage of the thermal cycle. The initial microstructure of the steel consists of ferrite (body-centered cubic iron) + carbide ((Fe,X)mCn) mixture. The heating rate through the peak temperature is a function of temperature and reaches a peak of about 300-400K/s and the cooling rate has a maximum value of 3000-4000K/s. The on-heating phase transformations include carbide dissolution, austenite (face-centered cubic iron) nucleation and growth, and diffusion of carbon and other substitutional elements in the steel. The on-cooling phase transformations include formation of martensite (body-centered tetragonal phase containing supersaturated solute) and bainite (ferrite plates with or without fine carbides). In this project, the focus is on Fe-C-Cr steels that are currently Flash processed for armor applications. The modeling effort proposed here will help optimize the Flash thermal cycle for these low alloy steels to achieve the target performance, which is an ongoing effort at SFP Works. A significant feature of Flash processed Fe-C-Cr steels is the presence of scatter in the through-thickness in the sheet. The variability in hardness results from a variability in the bainite + martensite microstructure that is sensitive to the local chemical concentration of C and Cr. Such a chemical inhomogeneity is intentionally obtained in the Flash process. Although such a microstructural gradient is presumably responsible for the exceptional properties of the Flash processed steel, it is very important to quantify the gradients as a function of Flash variabilities in processing parameters and the input microstructure. Understanding the mechanistic pathway that leads to microstructural gradients could be ground-breaking and instrumental for achieving better process control and optimized microstructural state to meet application-specific strength-ductility requirements. Since the final microstructure depends on setting up precise solute concentration gradients through a rapid heating process, and transforming these regions into various phases, it is important to understand how small changes in steel chemistry, input microstructure (carbide size and distribution), and process variables (Flash thermal cycle) will impact the solute concentration gradients.